10 Best New Year's Day Memories of the BCS Era
New Year's Day is the pinnacle of college football, and though the two best teams have squared off several days later in recent years, January 1 is the one day you don't want to miss.
The Rose Bowl is the highlight of the day, and it's usually surrounded by several intriguing SEC-Big Ten matchups along with a second BCS tilt later at night.
Given the sheer number of great players and great teams coming together in one, glorious, 12-hour span, madness is going to happen. And what a journey the special day has taken us on throughout the BCS era.
If you're a fan of a team fortunate enough to play on New Year's Day, you probably have your own set of memories that stand out above any other. But we've collected some of our favorites over the past 15 seasons, and they're now part of college football lore.
So take a look at the 10 Best Memories from New Year's Day games in the BCS era, and feel free to share some of your own as well!
All stats via ESPN unless otherwise noted.
10) Utah Crushes Pittsburgh for First BCS Win by a Non-AQ Conference Team
Boise State might be the school best associated with busting the BCS, but Utah was the first non-AQ conference team to make national noise in college football's postseason.
On New Year's Day in 2005, quarterback Alex Smith led the Utes to a dominating 35-7 victory over Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl, proving that their undefeated season was no fluke. At the helm was head coach Urban Meyer, who left for Florida the following season.
Utah started out slow, scoring just one touchdown in each of the first two quarters, but the defense kept the Panthers scoreless at the half. The Utes then erupted for three scores in the third quarter, and Smith finished with 328 yards passing and four touchdowns.
His top target, wide receiver Paris Warren, was unstoppable and caught 15 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns.
Overall, it was a landmark day in college football as Utah proved that you don't need to play in a major conference to be regarded as one of the best teams in the country.
9) West Virginia Comeback over Georgia Tech in Gator Bowl
It's not always the BCS bowls that make headlines on New Year's Day, and the 2007 Gator Bowl is a perfect example.
The two teams vying for a January bowl win were West Virginia, led by dual-threat dynamo Pat White, and Georgia Tech, which featured wide receiver Calvin Johnson, currently one of the most dominant players in the NFL.
A strong first half from Johnson and the Yellow Jackets gave them a 28-17 lead heading into the break, and it was extended to 35-17 following a score early in the third quarter.
But White responded with touchdown passes of 57 and 14 yards to bring his team to within four. He ran it in from 14 yards out toward the end of the third quarter to give the Mountaineers a 38-35 lead, which held steady until the clock ran out and the game was over.
For the game, White had 131 yards through the air and another 145 on the ground, accounting for three touchdowns. Johnson ended up catching 9 passes for 186 yards and two scores in a losing effort.
One year later, the same West Virginia team would go on to blow the doors off Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, which is perhaps the greatest win in the history of the program. But without this comeback against a talented Georgia Tech team, who knows what might have happened. The win propelled the program on to bigger and better things, and the comeback will go down as one of the great memories for West Virginia football.
8) TCU Rose Bowl Win over Wisconsin
For all the success TCU football had in the '00s, it never captured a BCS win, coming up just short against Boise State in the 2009 Fiesta Bowl.
One year later, quarterback Andy Dalton and the Horned Frogs would erase that narrative by beating Wisconsin 21-19 in a game that had it all.
First there was Dalton, showing off his NFL arm and throwing for 219 yards and two scores. Then there was Badger running back Montee Ball running for 132 yards and a touchdown on just 22 carries. In the end, it was Ball's lone touchdown that brought Wisconsin within two points with just two minutes remaining in the game.
But linebacker Tank Carder jumped in front of quarterback Scott Tolzien's pass on the Badgers' two-point conversion try, and the Horned Frogs escaped Pasadena with a Rose Bowl victory in tow.
It capped off an undefeated season for Gary Patterson's squad, and nobody who watched the Grandaddy of Them All could say that TCU wasn't ready to win the big one. It did, and proved that it could hang with, and beat, anybody in the country.
7) Michigan-Alabama Orange Bowl Thriller in 2000
With two historic program's squaring off and a future NFL Hall-of-Famer (going out on a limb here) in Tom Brady donning Michigan's maize and blue uniform, the 2000 Orange Bowl had it all.
Brady and the Wolverines faced mighty Alabama in a classic New Year's Day BCS game, and the result was in doubt until the very end. After four quarters, the score was tied at 28. In the extra period, Brady threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to give Michigan the lead, and Alabama responded with a quick strike of its own.
However, the extra point sailed inches wide of the goal post, and the Crimson Tide came up short. Amidst all of the future stars that took the field was running back Shawn Alexander, who ran for 161 yards and three touchdowns in his final game at Alabama.
Brady finished with 369 yards passing and four scores, and Michigan came away with an impressive bowl win, which isn't easy to come by given the program's storied history. This one will stand out as one of the best New Year's Day games of the BCS era.
6) Oregon's First Rose Bowl in 95 Years
The Oregon Ducks under Chip Kelly took the college football world by storm with a fast-paced, innovative offense. But the results didn't match the adjectives used to describe the Ducks, as the team failed to win the Rose Bowl in 2009 and the BCS championship the following year.
Heading into their Rose Bowl against Wisconsin, it was fair to question the Ducks' big-game struggles, but they were not to be denied this time around against an extremely talented Badgers team led by quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Montee Ball.
Running back De'Anthony Thomas had a breakout performance with 155 yards and two scores on just two carries, and after getting two key turnovers late in the game, the Ducks held on to a 45-38 lead with just seconds to go.
Anyone who started celebrating, however, must have forgotten about the magic of Wilson, who engineered a quick, two-play drive to bring the Badgers to within striking distance of tying the game.
But as he rushed up to the line to spike the ball, the clock began to run and it hit zero just before the ball touched the ground. After a review, the game was ruled officially over, and Oregon had won its first Rose Bowl in 95 years.
It was a classic game from start to finish that featured tons of offense, and it easily makes the list of our favorite New Year's Day* memories in the BCS era.
*Traditional New Year's Day games were played on January 2 that season. There were no games on January 1
5) Oklahoma State Outlasts Stanford in Fiesta Bowl Thriller
In Andrew Luck's final outing as a member of the Stanford Cardinal, he came up just short against quarterback Brandon Weeden and the Oklahoma State Cowboys. It was an incredible Fiesta Bowl game* that went back and forth for four quarters, and then some.
Stanford jumped out to an early 14-0 lead before the Cowboys, aided by wide receiver Justin Blackmon, tacked on a pair of scores to even things up. The two teams then traded scores all the way up to the late-fourth quarter, where a 4-yard scoring run by running back Joseph Randle helped the Cowboys tie things up yet again.
Andrew Luck responded by driving the offense to within field-goal range, but kicker Jordan Williamson missed what would have been a game winner. He then missed another field-goal attempt in overtime, and Oklahoma State nailed a game-winner moments later to secure the 41-38 win.
Luck completed 27-of-31 passes for 347 yards and two scores, but Weeden topped that with 399 yards passing and three scores of his own. Blackmon caught eight passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns in one of the most dominant bowl performances ever by a wide receiver.
It was an incredible game that saw a number of explosion plays both through the air and on the ground, but as is often the case in college football, a few late-game errors helped the Cowboys emerge victorious.
*Like the Rose Bowl in the previous slide, the game was played on January 2.
4) Georgia's Insane Comeback Against Purdue
In the 2000 Outback Bowl, Purdue's Drew Brees squared off against Georgia's Quincy Carter in a game for the ages.
But like a lot of great games, it sure wasn't setting up to be a classic early on. Brees and the Boilermakers jumped out to a 25-0 lead, and the game appeared to be well in hand. A 74-yard run by Georgia's Terrance Edwards put the Bulldogs on the board, and they added a field goal to make it 25-10 going into halftime.
The deficit was brought to just seven points after a Carter scoring run, followed by a two-point conversion. Then, with just several minutes remaining in the game, the talented signal-caller led his offense on a 13-play drive that resulted in a game-tying touchdown.
In overtime, after the Boilermakers were unable to score, Georgia drove down near the goal line and kicked the game-winning field goal to secure what was then the largest comeback in bowl history.
Brees still finished the game with 378 yards passing, but his inability to help the offense score a single point in the second half led to one of the greatest games in New Year's Day history.
3) Jadeveon Clowney's Hit
It was only a single play, but it was one of the rare few that literally causes you to stand up and yell in disbelief.
With his team trailing by a point midway through the fourth quarter, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney burst through the offensive line and met Michigan running back Vincent Smith at the very moment he received the handoff.
What ensued was an earth-shattering collision that sent Smith's helmet flying backwards and the ball tumbling from his grasp. Clowney picked it up with his left hand, and the Gamecocks were back in business. They ended up winning 33-28 after a Dylan Thompson touchdown pass with just 11 seconds left.
In an era where big hits are practically frowned upon, Clowney did something incredible, and it sent shockwaves around the college football world. Perhaps the best part was the reaction on social media, where hundreds of thousands of fans had a chance to instantly hear about the legendary play.
The hit was shown on highlight reels for months to come, and it will always stand out as one of the greatest defensive plays in college football history.
2) Oh Hey There, Vince Young
It was the game that saw Vince Young go from solid, dual-threat quarterback to a legend of the sport.
It was the 2005 Rose Bowl, and it was Texas vs. Michigan. The game was back and forth throughout until the Wolverines built a 31-21 lead heading into the fourth quarter behind the sensational play of quarterback Chad Henne and wide receiver Braylon Edwards.
Vince Young responded with a pair of touchdown runs, but a Michigan field goal sandwiched in between the Longhorns' scores kept the Wolverines within a point. Then, with just over three minutes left, kicker Garret Rivas nailed a 42-yarder to give Lloyd Carr's squad a two-point lead.
Young answered by engineering a clutch drive that ended in a game-winning field goal as time expired. He finished the game with 180 yards passing and 192 yards rushing, accounting for five touchdowns.
It seemed like the effort would be tough to top. Of course, we all know Young and the Longhorns went on to post an undefeated season a year later and top USC in the national championship. Still, every great player has his breakout moment, and while Young was special throughout the entire season, it was his effort in the Longhorns' 38-37 Rose Bowl win that took him to superstar status.
1) Boise State-Oklahoma
You could call it the greatest game ever played, and you wouldn't be wrong. Boise State and Oklahoma squared off in the Fiesta Bowl on January 1, 2007, and there aren't enough adjectives in the dictionary to describe what happened.
The Sooners were the powerful Big 12 team that many thought could bulldoze right through poor little Boise State. But the Broncos surprised everyone by jumping out to a 28-10 lead. And that's only where the madness begins.
Oklahoma scored two touchdowns and a field goal to tie the score with just over a minute to go. The question then became, should Boise State go big or play for overtime? They went big, but on the first play of the drive, quarterback Jared Zabransky's pass was intercepted by Marcus Walker who returned it for a touchdown.
On the ensuing drive, Boise State faced a 4th-and-18 with less than 20 seconds left. Zabransky threw a perfect pass over the middle to Drisan James, who was very near the first down. But as he was crossing the field in one direction, he flipped it back to teammate Gerard Rabb who was running the other way. It caught the Sooners' defense off guard, and Rabb dove into the end zone to tie the score.
After a 25-yard run by Adrian Peterson gave Oklahoma a 7-point lead in overtime, Boise State again faced a fourth down that needed to result in a touchdown. It did, after a halfback pass from Vinny Peretta to Derek Schouman, but instead of lining up for an extra point to send the game into a second overtime, Boise State went for two.
And for the third time in the span of a few short minutes, a trick play resulted in something special. This time, it was the statue-of-liberty play in which Zabransky faked a pass toward one sideline and held the ball behind his back for running back Ian Johnson, who snatched it and practically walked into the end zone, securing the 43-42 win. Johnson then seized the moment and proposed to his girlfriend, a cheerleader for Boise State.
It concluded a script that even Hollywood would find unbelievable, and it is without question the greatest memory from New Year's Day in the BCS era.